Friday, 27 April 2007

The Bay Challenge

Not far from where I live there is a well maintained pedestrian and bicycle track that runs along the edge of Iron Cove bay. It incorporates a bridge which turns the track into a circuit approximately 7km long, and is known as "The Bay".

For the last few months Milord and I have been having a race around it almost every Sunday - he does three circuits on his bike, and I jog it. I'm not much of a jogger, so it's jolly hard work, and although Milord enjoys cycling 21km is a long way!

The first time we did it I mostly walked, and finished in 61 minutes, and Milord managed 58 minutes. For the next several weeks I slowly knocked my time down and now I jog more than I walk and I am pretty close to breaking 50 minutes. I actually managed to beat Milord the last couple of times!

I'll cut him a bit of slack though, as he had a nasty throat and nose operation in February that put him out of action for over a month, and then we went away on holiday, so he's not been training much. From May he has no excuse though!

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Harbour Cleanup Dive

On Sunday 22nd April Milord and I participated in a harbour cleanup scuba dive to bring up fishing line clogging the bottom at a popular fishing spot in the Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, about half an hour’s drive north of Sydney.

Whenever someone says “harbour” to me I always think of smelly, oily, concrete boat harbours with high walls and breakwaters. Well, in Sydney they just mean an estuary, which has oodles of river mouths and bays and peninsulas and moorings. While there are a few mud banks around, in most places the shore is sheer and rocky and there are some impressive sandstone cliffs.

Illawong Bay has a nice grassy picnic area, and a rocky shore covered in razor sharp oyster shells below the tide line, turning to sludge at around 10m. As you may imagine it’s not particularly good for diving, with plenty of murk and not much coral or whatnot. I’m not sure why it’s good for fishing either, as we didn’t see anything over 10cm long while we were down there.

What we did see was a lot of was fishing line! We came to the conclusion that no fisherman goes home with their line (or a fish) after casting off Illawong Bay, as there are areas where the layers of snarled line, hooks and sinkers are close to a foot deep. I couldn’t work out what I was looking at at first, as it resembled ropes and cables on the sea bed, not slender nylon fishing line! There are also quite a number of rods down there, and bottles and cups, the odd chair and even a few lorry parts. It is amazing what people throw into the sea!

Yes, that really is fishing line - and the vis was that bad!

We were down for nearly an hour, tearing and cutting line away, and stuffing it into a woven bag. The weight of the sinkers we brought up was startling; I reckon we had about 10kg of lead in the bag by the end, which made for some interesting buoyancy control. At one point I got tired and handed the bag to Milord – as I let go he sank like a stone and I rocketed towards the surface! Lots of bubbles and thrashing ensued while we sorted it out, only to do the reverse a bit later when he handed the bag back to me ;-).

10 divers went down for line, and several other folk walked the shoreline collecting litter. Sadly we don’t think we made much difference, as there is just so much to bring up. Hopefully the HarbourKeepers organization will be organizing another cleanup there, with more divers and extra tanks to have another attempt. It's not exactly a great recreational dive, but it's good to be putting something back into the community.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

South African Holiday Part 6. Kruger - Pta - Sydney

Part 1 - Sydney - Saldanha
Part 2 - Saldanha - CT
Part 3 - Cape Town
Part 4 - Pretoria - Kruger
Part 5 - Kruger Park

The final camp we stayed in was Olifants, and although the closest exit gate to there is Phalaborwa Gate we decided to exit via the Orpen Gate as the best animal viewing is around Satara and we fancied a dramatic last drive. We were out of the camp at 6am, and left the Kruger at 11am on Saturday 18th March.

During the drive I was looking at the map and I realized that the Klein Drakensberg (small dragon) range was really close by, so we took a detour through the mountains on the way back to Pretoria. The mountains are stunning, they rear up from the lowlands in a wall of rock layers, and I couldn’t help thinking of the early explorers and trekkers having to find a way through. I’d also picked up a copy of Jock of the Bushveld (one of my favorite books as a child) while we were in the Kruger, so the ox-wagon era was fresh in my mind.

We had a glorious drive though the Berg, stopping at a few lookouts and pausing at Bourkes Luck Potholes. Milord reckons that is the most uninviting name ever for a spectacular river gorge, and if I hadn’t been raving about it he wouldn’t have stopped! (In my teens I did a 3 day hike along the Blyde River which ended at Bourkes Luck Potholes, so I knew all about them) In that area the Blyde River has carved a deep gorge, and where the water eddies it has created bowls and tubes through the rock, called the potholes, quite spectacular, and lovely to see running water after so long in the dry bushveld. We stopped to look out over the escarpment at Gods Window, and then made our way to Graskop where we grabbed a couple of burgers for a late lunch. Then down, down, down the mountain and south to pick up the N4 and head back to Pretoria.

We got back to Shane’s around 6pm, which meant we’d been on the go for 12 hours! Milord said it was such an interesting drive that he hadn’t felt tired. Even once night fell the “Hijacking Hotspot” signs on the highway kept him alert ;-). At Shane’s we had a very well earned couple of beers and I was asleep before 10.

Our final Sunday in South Africa was spent quietly. While Shane and her family were at church Milord and I burned all our photos to a dvd and started packing. Stephan cooked a chicken in the kettle braai and we had lunch sitting outside in the glorious dry heat. We were so lucky with the weather while we were in South Africa. Only one day of rain the whole time, only a couple of windy days in Cape Town, and generally hot. It was scorching in the Kruger Park, but so dry that it was bearable – at one point Milord said “How can it be 38 degrees and I’m not soaked in sweat?” We blessed the car aircon, and it was a pleasure to step into cool buildings every so often, but really we enjoyed the heat most of the time. The past summer in Sydney has been so disappointing that it was lovely just to be hot!

Shane and family dropped us at the airport at 3pm, we flew out at 5pm, and got into Sydney at 2:30pm Monday afternoon after 11 hours in the air. Argh, lost a day somewhere there! We had a shower, went out for dinner, and were asleep by 8pm and slept a solid 12 hours to 8am on Tuesday. Milord went to work and I started sorting out our photos. It took a week to cull and stitch them from 600+ to 300!

Old News - Newsletter April 2007

We went to a house auction (most inner Sydney houses sell by auction, damn irritating) last night but it went past our finance limit so fast it was actually funny! We've been hunting for a month now, and this weekend have decided to take a break. No rush, and our expectations are slowly coming down. Sydney is sooooooo expensive! Half a million dollars gets you a hovel.

Easter was very quiet, we are still absolutely skint. It rained most of the time so we lazed about reading the paper and watched movies. A spot of gardening when it dried long enough... nice ;-). A couple of meals out and at friends, and I beat him around The Bay by 3 seconds heh heh heh. We went to the Easter Show which is not really our thing... I know where milk comes from, thanks.

Milord had a birthday last week and we had a mob around for a barbie, but it was a schoolnight so fairly civilised. I spoiled him rotten starting over the Easter weekend, although as he'd bought "us" a $2000 camera the other day he only got token pressies ;-). More than I got grumble grumble rhubarb...

My visa application is dragging along. I have received one out of three police checks back (Oz, still waiting for UK and SA), and my medical exam has turned complicated... I have to see a urologist now. I feel healthier than I've ever been, so it's probably nothing! I'll keep you posted ;-).

On Sunday we are doing our first dive in ages, helping remove fishing line from the seabed... Should be interesting, and a good excuse to buy a dive knife!

Work is pretty dull - we have a major release going out this week so we're sitting around while it goes through testing. Not enough bugs obviously! Plenty of time for browsing and blogging, but the days drag...

South African Holiday Part 5 - Kruger Park

Part 1 - Sydney - Saldanha
Part 2 - Saldanha - CT
Part 3 - Cape Town
Part 4 - Pretoria - Kruger
Part 6 - Kruger - Sydney

We were booked into Skukuza camp for our first night, which is a couple of hours north of Malelane Gate. After sorting out our entry permit we ventured into the game reserve. I have not really been in a game reserve before (unless you count when I was very small – all I remember is being bored in a hot car), and neither had Milord so we were quite excited. The speed limit in the park is 50km/h on tar and 40km/h on dirt, so we did 25km/h ;-).

As we beetled along the road Milord said “Isn’t this just like the Ozzie tourist – expecting to see game within his first five minutes?”. I’d just laughed with him when he hit the brakes and said “Rhino!”. “Bollocks” says I. “No, really!” And there, to my left under a tree, was a great big rhino! A mad scramble for cameras and much clicking (about this point I started to come around to the idea of the SLR) and we had bagged one of the Big Five (rhino, lion, giraffe, leopard and buffalo... we saw all of them except leopard).

That first afternoon between Malelane and Skukuza was simply amazing. We saw more rhinos, heaps of impala, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest… and we’d only been in the park a couple of hours! Fabulous.

At Skukuza we stayed in a permanent tent. This is practically a hut, with cement floor, metal frame and wooden door, but canvas roof and walls. It had a fridge, fan, lights, and the most comfortable beds we’d been in for over a week. The one downside was that it was pretty hot when we went to bed (it got close to 40deg C every day), but the temperature dropped a lot at night and by 2am I was looking for a blanket. The other irritation was having to dress, find shoes and walk across the camp in the night for a wee.

The rest camps in the Kruger are huge areas enclosed in electric fences, containing huts, campgrounds, restaurant and shop, and sometimes a swimming pool and play area. Apart from some exposed bridges and picnic clearings they are the only places you can leave your car in the park. The gates close at 6pm and open at 5:30am, and the only animals you may find inside are birds and monkeys (little bastards jump the fence and raid the camp). It’s very safe, and about the only place in South Africa I was happy walking around alone in after dark! If you aren’t self catering the restaurant does a buffet every night, which was pretty good considering I don’t usually like buffets!

That first night we checked in, had a shower and a couple of beers, went for dinner and passed out in the tent. Apart from one toilet trip I don’t think I moved – it was my best sleep since we’d left Sydney. I woke at 7am as the sun reached the tent and started to heat it up.

For the next four nights in Satara and Olifants we stayed in rondavels – round thatched huts with en-suite, air-conditioning, and kitchenette. They get cleaned every day, and are very comfortable. Each one has a little veranda outside where the kitchenette is, and we’d splashed out a bit to have views which was great (in Satara the perimeter fence, and at Olifants we overlooked the river). They also each have their own braai-place, and we grilled steaks, mushrooms and corn cobs a couple of nights.

Apart from the usual driving around, we also went on a few extra excursions. We did a dawn drive, a sunset drive, a night drive and a bush walk. The drives were interesting as these were outside the hours we could be out of the camp, and we saw a few creatures that you don’t see during the day like owls, hyenas and jackal.

The bush walk was amazing though, and I strongly recommend it! It starts with the dawn (which means leaving the camp before 5am) and two rangers with shotguns lead a small group of people though the veld pointing out tracks and scat and stuff. We saw skeletons and a baboon spider tunnel (and we teased him with a piece of grass until he came out, wow they’re big!).

This was all getting a bit hot and boring as we tramped along next to a river, when suddenly the rangers stopped and pointed. They’d just mentioned elephant noises, so I was scanning the reeds trying to see the damn elephant, when suddenly there was a roar and this lioness came charging out of the reeds! I nearly wet myself. The rangers gathered us behind them and we stood in a little herd facing her about 20m away. The next moment a cub went scrambling up the bank behind her, and she turned and followed, pausing on top to give an unmistakable “leave now” stare. Then she was gone, and we quickly left her territory! Spine-tingling stuff!

Other highlights include:

Reversing down a dirt road for half a kilometer as we were in the path of a large elephant who didn’t look like he was in the mood to go around us.

Gingerly edging around a hyena suckling her cub in the middle of the road early one morning.

Having an afternoon nap at Olifants only to find that the vervet monkeys got into our fridge while we were sleeping and made off with all the sweets and fruit. Luckily not the steak!

Something worth knowing:
You cannot buy petrol in South Africa with a credit card (how am I supposed to know that?! You used to be able to). The only ATMs in the Kruger that take foreign cards are at Skukuza and Letaba. Sometimes the ATMs will go out of order while you drive to where they are. There is a long story behind this, but you get the gist!

Part 6 - Kruger - Sydney

South African Holiday Part 4 - Pretoria to the Kruger Park

Part 1 - Sydney - Saldanha
Part 2 - Saldanha - CT
Part 3 - Cape Town
Part 5 - Kruger Park
Part 6 - Kruger - Sydney

We landed in Johannesburg on the afternoon of my birthday, and were met by Stephan who took us home to Pretoria where Shane and their daughters Jodi and Kaelin were waiting with champagne.

As a birthday gift Shane and Stephan had offered to host a gathering for me, and we had a good turnout: my grandmother Mavis, uncle Anthony, aunt Lyn and my cousins Kyle and Ariel, uncle Frank, aunt Vivienne and cousin Bronwyn, and Dave and Tracey and their new son Luke. Shane produced a feast and Stephan cooked an excellent braai and at the end I even got a proper birthday cake with sparklers (luckily not 35 of them as we’d have needed a fire extinguisher)!

Sunday was a slow start, and then the boys went out shopping. Milord wanted to get a new camera, so I waved him off thinking he was going to get a nice digital compact. A couple of hours later he came back with a very (very) expensive digital SLR, and I was so angry I couldn’t actually speak to him for some time. Luckily there were a lot of distractions, and a bit later Milord and I took Shane, Steph and the girls out for lunch. We shared a couple of seafood platters which were lovely and I felt better after a glass of wine. Then the boys took the children for a couple of hours while Shane and I went to the botanical gardens for a bit of quality time. It rained on us a little, but we huddled under our picnic rug drinking wine and talking. Shane is my best friend in all the world, and I really miss having her nearby.

On Monday 12 March Rob and I set off for the Kruger Park. It was a very easy drive, as the N4 freeway runs from near Shane’s place all the way to the southern-most park gate – Malelane Gate. We got there in about four hours.

Part 5 - Kruger Park

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

South African Holiday Part 3. Cape Town

Part 1 - Sydney - Saldanha
Part 2 - Saldanha - CT
Part 4 - Pretoria - Kruger
Part 5 - Kruger Park
Part 6 - Kruger - Sydney

On the morning of Tuesday 6th March my mother Sally landed in Cape Town from the Isle of Man (via Gatwick and Heathrow). On the way to the airport to fetch her we picked up my sister Kelly in Wynberg as Mom and Kelly were coming to stay with us in Fresnaye for 3 nights to maximize their “quality time” with us ;-). Back to Fresnaye for Mom to shower and change, and then off sightseeing!

We drove along the west coast of the Cape peninsula towards Cape Point, passing Clifton, Camps Bay, Hout Bay, Chapmans Peak drive (which is now a very nice toll road carved into the mountain side), Noordhoek, Kommetjie and on into the Cape Point Reserve. From the parking lot there is a funicular railway that climbs to the lookouts and lighthouse, or you can walk up. As we had Kelly with us we splurged on the lazy option! A good look around, a quick late lunch of biltong (Milord is officially addicted) and back into the car for the drive home along the eastern coast, passing Simonstown and Muizenberg and back to Fresnaye as the sun was starting to set. We were meeting my Dad for dinner in the waterfront as his ship was to sail the next day, so after a quick scrub up we were back in the car.

The Waterfront has grown rather a lot in the last four years - I used to think you could hang around there for a couple of days without needing to leave; now it may be a week! We met my Dad (he and my Mom haven’t seen each other in years - luckily they get on ok), and we all went for dinner at Morton’s. It was very pleasant, and I managed to stick to two glasses of wine as I was driving – all those years out of the country have obviously rubbed off. After dinner we dropped Dad back at the ship (driving around the docks at night is interesting but not really my thing) and crashed off to bed.

On Wednesday we wanted to go to the top of Table Mountain for a champagne breakfast – the 7th March is a special day as it is the second anniversary of Milord and me meeting. Kelly wasn’t keen, so Milord, Mom and I raced off, got to the cable station to find heaps of parking and no queue, and were patting ourselves on the back only to find that the cableway was closed because of high wind. Funny how it can be a screaming south-easter on the other side but breathless where you are! Instead we went for a champagne brunch at the waterfront and browsed around the shops for a bit. In the afternoon Mom ran some errands, Milord had a nap, and Kelly and I had a swim in our surprisingly cold pool.

Then we packed up a picnic and went down to Clifton 4th beach for sundowners. It used to be a favorite pastime of mine to sit on the sand watching the sun set with a glass of wine after work. It was a bit breezy when we arrived, but as the sun set over the sea the wind dropped and it was a stunning evening. Lyska, Alison and Mervin managed to drop by for a drink which was great. I took Milord for a paddle in the Atlantic and he was horrified at how cold it is – I got a shock myself even though I was expecting it! We left once it was dark, and Selwyn and Lizette came to see us at the flat in Fresnaye for drinks and nibbles. It is always fascinating to hear what they are up to!

On Thursday we woke to a gorgeous day, phoned the cable car to make sure it was open, and then raced off to go up the mountain. It turns out that a whole heap of people had the same idea, and the car parking was full halfway back into town and the queue looked very long! We drove up to the cable station and dropped off Mom and Kelly, then parked down the hill telling each other that we could do with the exercise! When we got back to the queue we were startled to see them standing at the entrance – a very nice lady had spotted that Kelly was going to need help and she jumped us in front of the queue and sent us up the lifts!

I haven’t been up the cable cars since they were replaced, and the new ones are brilliant. They perform a full 360 degree rotation on the way up so that you can see everything without shoving around, and took no more than 5 minutes to make the journey. I was very impressed. We spent an hour or so on the mountain - it was windless and warm and the views were amazing. Then down the cable car again and off to Kirstenbosch.

By now it was very hot, so we found Kelly a shady bench under a tree near Colonel Bird’s bath and took a slow stroll up the hill to the top edge of the gardens where the proteas are. Sadly they were mostly not flowering, but I think Milord got an idea. Then we meandered around the lawns and flowerbeds working our way downhill back to Kelly, and all went for lunch in the Kirstenbosch Silvertree restaurant with a well-earned cold glass of wine.

From Kirstenbosch we went to Muizenberg beach, and had a walk along the sand. The wind had picked up and the sun was setting so we didn’t stay too long, just long enough for Milord to dip his feet in the Indian ocean and compare its far more moderate temperature to the other side of the peninsula! On the way home we took a detour into Westlake to have a look at the house we used to live in when I was a kid – and it’s gone! They are building a housing complex on the site where it used to stand; we could recognize a few mature trees that used to be around the house but that is all. It was rather disturbing! Then back to Fresnaye one last time, and a quiet night in finishing off nibbles and wine.

On Friday morning we packed up, stuffed everything into the car and headed off to Stellenbosch. We went to the village museum which is a very interesting look into the past as you explore four houses redone in period style over the centuries since 17-something. It was a scorcher of a day and it was amazing how the thick walls and thatch of the buildings kept the heat out. Then we did a mini wine tour to two estates (Kleine Zalza and Avontuur), and met up with my aunt Jane and uncle Charles at Vergelen for lunch. Jane’s greeting to me was “You look well. Very fat, but well.” I was not amused, but it was a little better than last time when she told me I looked pregnant I suppose!

We had a lovely late lunch, then transferred Mom to Jane and Charles’ car and headed back to Cape Town to drop Kelly at home, and on to Andrew and Paula’s in Constantia for the night (and their kids Alex and Justin). Once again my mates came up trumps, as they hosted a braai and Jenny, Neville, my aunt Estelle, and Brendan came along to see us. I faded suddenly at about 10 and left Milord sitting up talking politics I believe. I didn’t notice him come to bed until he started looking for mosquito killer at 2am…

Saturday 10th March was my 35th birthday. Milord told me he’d been uninspired on the present front and was still looking, but I didn’t actually believe him until the end of the day! We had a lazy breakfast with Andrew and Paula who were gearing up to Justin’s first birthday party that afternoon, then headed off to the airport and flew to Jhb.

Part 4 - Pretoria - Kruger